Go ahead for plans to restore Walthamstow’s iconic theatre

3 June 2020

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Current interior of the EMD. Photo by Jenna Selby

On 2 June Waltham Forest’s virtual Planning Committee unanimously gave the green light to the Council’s ambitious plans to restore Walthamstow’s famous EMD/Granada cinema. The proposal includes a 950 seat theatre, bar and restaurant, community space, garden terrace and more.

The £25m investment into the venue’s revival is part of the Council’s London Borough of Culture legacy commitment to place culture at the heart of its communities, as well as driving economic, social and environmental benefits to Waltham Forest residents and businesses. This development is also crucially important to help support our economic recovery and resilience during these uncertain times.

The venue will be managed by Soho Theatre, a charity and social enterprise, who ordinarily produce and present theatre, comedy, cabaret and much more from its acclaimed central London theatre. The organisation will work in partnership with Waltham Forest Council, who purchased the former cinema on Hoe Street in 2019 following a long campaign to ensure the building remained as an entertainment venue.

Through putting this landmark back in the map, Waltham Forest will become a magnet for visitors wanting to experience world-class culture in the borough, helping to boost the local evening and nighttime economy and support our existing businesses. The development will also provide a number of local jobs and training opportunities both during the restoration and in the new operation. It is projected that the local economic benefit from the theatre will be more than £50m over 10 years.

Soho Theatre’s wide-ranging programme will be announced towards the end of 2021. It is set to feature some of the biggest names in UK and international comedy as well as an annual pantomime and special events (from music to screenings and performance) alongside dedicated community, education and schools programmes. Soho Theatre has already established many connections with schools, young people and other groups across the borough over the last ten years.

David Luff, Soho Theatre’s Creative Director, said: “Alongside the Council for their incredible support, we’d like to acknowledge and thank the very many local people who campaigned for years for this building to remain as an entertainment venue. We’d like to see that local ownership at the heart of a future programme that involves local schools, community groups and residents from across the borough. At the same time, we want a ‘local theatre with a national profile’. We will bring some of the biggest stars of the comedy world and welcome audiences from London and beyond, as well as producing an annual Walthamstow panto, theatre and performance, screenings and special events.”

The Council has extensively consulted local residents and businesses when developingits plans, which respect the heritage of the much-loved Art Deco building and seeks to maintain its appearance, as well as the design and character of the interior and the main façade.

Cllr Simon Miller, Lead Member for Economic Growth and Housing Development, said, ‘We are very excited to get started on the restoration of this iconic building with such a strong cultural heritage. We are delighted to be working in partnership with Soho Theatre to open-up this very special venue, bringing an outstanding contribution to our vast cultural offer. The development will also provide local jobs, opportunities and a welcoming community space. These combined with growing visitor numbers, will provide huge economic benefits to our borough for years to come.”

The famous establishment is known for staging some of the biggest names in the industry, including The Beatles, Duke Ellington, Rolling Stones, The Who, James Brown, The Ronettes, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison.

The Council is working with architects Pilbrow & Partners and developer Willmott Dixon Interiors. The main refurbishment will begin immediately and is expected to complete in Spring 2022. Council staff and contractors will be operating under revised health and safety protocols in order to fully comply with Government guidance around social distancing and advice from the Construction Leadership Group.

For more information visit walthamforest.gov.uk/emd where you can sign up to receive regular updates on the venue’s developments.